Gender bias on Wikipedia

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"Gendergap" redirects here. For other uses, see Gender gap.

Gender bias on Wikipedia, also known as the gender gap or gender imbalance, is the finding that between 84 and 91 percent of Wikipedia editors are male,[1] which leads to systemic bias.[2] It is one of the criticisms of Wikipedia. The Wikipedia community has acknowledged the problem and is attempting to narrow this gender gap. In August 2014, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced in a BBC interview the Wikimedia Foundation's plans for "doubling down" on the issue of gender bias at Wikipedia. Wales said the Foundation would be open to more outreach and more software changes.[3]

Research findings[edit]

Wikipedia editors are predominantly male. (Data from a 2011 Wikimedia Foundation survey of Wikipedia editors)

Surveys have indicated that a distinct minority—between approximately 8.5 and 16 percent—of Wikipedia editors are women.[1][4] Consequently, Wikipedia has been criticized by some academics and journalists for having primarily male contributors, and for having fewer and less extensive articles about women or topics important to women.

The New York Times pointed out that Wikipedia's female participation rate may be in line with other "public thought-leadership forums".[5]

In 2009, a Wikimedia Foundation survey revealed that only 6% of editors who made more than 500 edits were female; with the average male editor having twice as many edits.[6]

In 2010, United Nations University and UNU-MERIT jointly presented an overview of the results of a global Wikipedia survey.[7] A January 30, 2011, New York Times article cited this Wikimedia Foundation collaboration, which indicated that fewer than 13% of contributors to Wikipedia are women. Sue Gardner, then executive director of the foundation, said that increasing diversity was about making the encyclopedia "as good as it could be." Factors the article cited as possibly discouraging women from editing included the "obsessive fact-loving realm", associations with the "hard-driving hacker crowd," and the necessity to be "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists."[2] In 2013, the results of the survey were challenged by Hill and Shaw using corrective estimation techniques to suggest upward corrections to the data from the survey and to recommend updates to the statistics being surveyed, giving 22.7% for adult US female editors and 16.1% overall.[8]

In February 2011, the Times followed up with a series of opinions on the subject under the banner, "Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?"[9] Susan C. Herring, a professor of information science and linguistics, said that she was not surprised by the Wikipedia contributors gender gap. She said that the often contentious nature of Wikipedia article "talk" pages, where article content is discussed, is unappealing to many women, "if not outright intimidating."[10] Joseph M. Reagle reacted similarly, saying that the combination of a "culture of hacker elitism," combined with the disproportionate effect of high-conflict members (a minority) on the community atmosphere, can make it unappealing. He said, "the ideology and rhetoric of freedom and openness can then be used (a) to suppress concerns about inappropriate or offensive speech as "censorship" and (b) to rationalize low female participation as simply a matter of their personal preference and choice."[11] Justine Cassell said that although women are as knowledgeable as men, and as able to defend their point of view, "it is still the case in American society that debate, contention, and vigorous defense of one’s position is often still seen as a male stance, and women’s use of these speech styles can call forth negative evaluations."[12]

The International Journal of Communication published research by Reagle and Lauren Rhue that examined the coverage, gender representation, and article length of thousands of biographical subjects on the English-language Wikipedia and the online Encyclopædia Britannica. They concluded that Wikipedia provided better coverage and longer articles in general, that Wikipedia typically has more articles on women than Britannica in absolute terms, but Wikipedia articles on women were more likely to be missing than articles on men relative to Britannica. That is, Wikipedia dominated Britannica in biographical coverage, but more so when it comes to men. Similarly, one might say that Britannica is more balanced in whom it neglects to cover than Wikipedia. For both reference works, article length did not consistently differ by gender.[13]

In April 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation conducted its first semi-annual Wikipedia survey. It suggested that only 9% of Wikipedia editors are women. It also reported, "Contrary to the perception of some, our data shows that very few women editors feel like they have been harassed, and very few feel Wikipedia is a sexualized environment."[14] However, an October 2011 paper at the International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration found evidence that suggested that Wikipedia may have "... a culture that may be resistant to female participation."[15]

A study published in 2014 found that there is also an "Internet skills gap" with regard to Wikipedia editors. The authors found that the most likely Wikipedia contributors are high-skilled men and there is no gender gap among low-skilled editors, and concluded that the "skills gap" exacerbates the gender gap among editors.[16]

As of 2014, women made up 61% of participants for college courses that included editing Wikipedia as part of the curriculum.[17]


Several causes for this gender disparity have been suggested. A 2010 study revealed a Wikipedia female participation rate of 13 percent, observed to be close to the 15 percent overall female participation rate of other "public thought-leadership forums".[5][18] Wikipedia research fellow Sarah Stierch acknowledged that it is "fairly common" for Wikipedia contributors to remain gender-anonymous.[19] A toxic culture and tolerance of violent and abusive language are also reasons put forth for the gendergap.[20]

Causes of the gender bias on Wikipedia have been found to be failure to attract and retain female editors, according to a 2013 study,[21] with a negative impact on Wikipedia's coverage.[21]

Former Wikimedia Foundation executive Sue Gardner provides nine reasons, offered by female Wikipedia editors, "Why Women Don't Edit Wikipedia":[22]

  1. A lack of user-friendliness in the editing interface;
  2. Not having enough free time;
  3. A lack of self-confidence;
  4. Aversion to conflict and a disinterest in participating in lengthy edit wars;
  5. Belief that their contributions will be reverted or deleted;
  6. Some find its overall atmosphere misogynistic;
  7. Wikipedia culture is sexual in ways they find off-putting;
  8. Being addressed as male is off-putting to women whose primary language has grammatical gender;
  9. Fewer opportunities than other sites for social relationships and a welcoming tone.

Lam et al.[15] suggest that there may be a culture which is non-inclusive of women on Wikipedia, which may be due to a disparity in male-to-female centric topics represented and edited, the tendency for female users to be more active in the social and community aspects of Wikipedia, an increased likelihood that edits by new female editors are reverted, and/or that articles with high proportions of female editors are more contentious.

In July 2014, the National Science Foundation announced that it would spend $200,000 to study systemic gender bias on Wikipedia. The study will be led by Julia Adams and Hannah Brueckner.[23]

Potential remedies for gender bias[edit]

  • Feminist-themed edit-a-thons have been organized to attempt to encourage more women to edit Wikipedia.[24]
  • Wikimedia Foundation's VisualEditor is said to be aimed at closing the gender gap.[25][26]
  • Systers, an organization supporting technical women in computing, has posted an article urging women to expand their editing efforts, and also specified extensive safety precautions that female editors should consider taking.[27]
  • A paper by Morgan and Walls studied the effective use of "Teahouses" to present a user friendly environment for online collaboration of women editors on Wikipedia.[28]

Category-Gate and Feminist Digital Humanities[edit]

“Category-gate” is the term used to label the gender bias that is dominant on Wikipedia and the issues that it presents, as it hinders progress towards gender equity. It has been a discovered fact that women are harshly underrepresented in the community of Wikipedia contributors. As a result, there is a severe lack of feminine viewpoints, and as Sue Gardner stated in The Journal of Communication Inquiry, “Wikipedia cannot bring to the world the sum of all human knowledge if women are only 10% of editors."[29] In order for an encyclopedia to serve its purpose as a source of knowledge, it must be free of bias, but the gender gap presents several problems.

The main issue that arises as a result of women being a minority is the implication of power that is granted to the ever-dominant male presence. Because women rarely edit Wikipedia, on the rare occasion that a female contributes information to a page, the men have the privilege of deciding whether the information is important enough to have its own page solely because men outnumber women. In a particular incident that revealed the dominating male force, a page was made for Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. However, within the first few moments the page was created, people, presumably males, attempted to have the page deleted, which exposed the topical bias that is present in Wikipedia due to the gender bias, since men and women have different interests and standards of what is important and what is not [30]. Another problem that surfaces from the gender bias is that there are not many detailed Wikipedia entries on famous women. In her article, “Throwing off the cloak of invisibility,” Athene Donald discusses her concern that well-known female scientists, who contributed significantly to their fields, had very brief Wikipedia page entries that grazed over their accomplishments and did not properly give them the credit they deserved. She also emphasizes the need for the public to be reminded that women are just as important as men, and they should receive proper recognition, as “…women’s contributions are every bit as important as men’s.”[31] Because not enough women are on Wikipedia, women’s entries are either weakened or deemed unworthy by the ever-dominant male presence. Another case that resulted from the gender bias was discussed by Walter Bruno in his article, “Attempting to Balance Wiki-Feminism: A Case Study.” Bruno believed that Wikipedia could not be considered a credible source solely because of the gender politics that exist. Because masculine and feminine interpretations differ quite significantly, the information in entries relating to gender could not be taken to be accurate, because of the biases that could result from gendered analyses.[32] Due to an excess of male opinion, feminist viewpoints have been significantly undermined, and recent developments have strived to reduce the effects of masculine attitudes by increasing the presence of feminist principles.

Feminist digital humanities is a relatively new field that is primarily concerned with increasing feminist scholarship for the purpose of disseminating feminist ideologies and making women’s works more accessible to the general public. Feminist digital humanists have a collective goal to make content that is reflective of feministic thought available to everyone in the hopes that people will be more accepting of feminism. In the article, “Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives,” Jacqueline Wernimont and Julia Flanders write about the Women Writers Project, which strives to make previously inaccessible writings of women available to the general public. They recognize that feministic works are not currently easily accessible, whether they have been erased, or if they were never written in much excess to start with.[33]In the article: “Sorting things in: Feminist knowledge representation and changing modes of scholarly production,” Susan Brown, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy highlight the need for feminist scholars to become more active everywhere on the Internet, because everything has been digitalized in this age of technology. They emphasize how important it is for feminists to add their ideas to the digital world, so that the public can become more aware of feminist values, which will create a platform on which feminism can become more prominent in society. [34] If more feminist works are publicized, or similarly, if more women contributed to Wikipedia, feminism could be advocated across digital boundaries, and the gender bias not only on Wikipedia, but also in society, could gradually be reduced.

Efforts have been made in an attempt to reduce the gender bias in Wikipedia. According to FemTechNet, it is an organization that is dedicated to increasing the presence of women and feminism on Wikipedia. Wikistorming is one of the organization’s ideas to combat the male majority by urging students and professors to collaboratively add feminist scholarship to entries on Wikipedia and promoting awareness of the gender bias. FemTechNet also hosts edit-a-thons, which are events where editors gather together to contribute content to platforms like Wikipedia. The edit-a-thons are structured so that women and feminists are encouraged to participate in implementing changes that will help increase feminist scholarship and advocate the urgency for a restructuring of the current system. Advocates for feminist digital humanities continually collaborate to provide ideas that will hopefully work to reduce the flaws and misconceptions that people have about feminist presence online.

Feminist scholars have proposed explanations for the underrepresentation of women online, and many of the justifications are made under the notion that there have been several flawed assumptions about women and their roles as Wikipedia contributors. Adrianne Wadewitz, a renowned feminist scholar and digital humanist who was a regular Wikipedian, discussed misconceptions that people have about women on Wikipedia. The assumptions she discussed in her blog post, “Wikipedia’s gender gap and the complicated reality of systemic gender bias,” conclude that merely hiring women to edit Wikipedia will not solve gender issues.[35]

Because Wikipedia is a tremendously popular global source of knowledge, the information possesses a significant amount of influence in shaping the beliefs and values of those who read it. Since women and feminists are underrepresented on the online encyclopedia, feminism ideologies are also absent. In order for gender issues to be solved, the public must be sufficiently exposed to feminist beliefs, which can only be made possible if more feminist writers are active. If no changes are made, women will continue to be underrepresented, and the few sources of feministic thought that exist currently will soon be erased in the “category-gate” of male-dominant technology, and the gender bias at hand will not only continue, but also worsen. Jacqueline Wernimont, in her blog post titled, “The Women that ‘Category-Gate’ Erased,” emphasizes the urgency to reevaluate the manner in which Wikipedia is structured, and hopes that thinking about “category-gate” will bring about changes, allowing Wikipedia to be “…a place where women and feminists are working every single day to ensure that it represents the world we want to live in.”[36] Once these changes are made, then the issues with gender bias can be solved gradually, allowing society to eventually progress towards a desired state of overall gender equity.


The Wikimedia Foundation has acknowledged since at least 2011, when Gardner was executive director, that gender bias exists in the project. It has made some attempts to address it but Gardner has expressed frustration with the degree of success achieved. She has also noted that "in the very limited leisure time women had, they tended to be more involved in social activities instead of editing Wikipedia. 'Women see technology more as a tool they use to accomplish tasks, rather than something fun in itself.'"[37][38] In 2011, the Foundation set a target of having 25 percent of its contributors identifying as female by 2015.[2] In August 2013, Gardner said, "I didn't solve it. We didn't solve it. The Wikimedia Foundation didn't solve it. The solution won't come from the Wikimedia Foundation."[37]

In August 2014, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced in a BBC interview the Wikimedia Foundation's plans for "doubling down" on the issue of gender bias at Wikipedia. Wales agreed that Sue Gardner's goal of 25% women enrollment by 2015 had not been met. Wales said the Foundation would be open to more outreach and more software changes.[3]

Writing for Slate in 2011, Heather Mac Donald called Wikipedia's gender imbalance a "non-problem in search of a misguided solution." Mac Donald asserted, "The most straightforward explanation for the differing rates of participation in Wikipedia—and the one that conforms to everyday experience—is that, on average, males and females have different interests and preferred ways of spending their free time."[39]


  1. ^ a b Statistics based on Wikimedia Foundation Wikipedia editor surveys 2011 (Nov. 2010-April 2011) and November 2011 (April - October 2011)
  2. ^ a b c Cohen, Noam (30 January 2011). "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List". New York Times. Retrieved 31 January 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Wikipedia 'completely failed' to fix gender imbalance, BBC interview with Jimmy Wales, August 8, 2014; starting at 45 seconds.
  4. ^ Hill, Benjamin Mako; Shaw, Aaron; Sánchez, Angel (26 June 2013). "The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation". PLoS ONE 8 (6): e65782. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065782. 
  5. ^ a b "Wikipedia Ponders Its Gender-Skewed Contributions -". 
  6. ^ "WP:Clubhouse? An Exploration of Wikipedia’s Gender Imbalance". 
  7. ^ Glott, Ruediger; Schmidt, Philipp; Ghosh, Rishab (March 2010). "Wikipedia Survey: Overview Results". Archived from the original on 14 April 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?". New York Times. 2 February 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2014. 
  10. ^ Herring, Susan C. (4 February 2011). "Communication Styles Make a Difference". New York Times (opinion). Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Reagle, Joseph M. (4 February 2011). "'Open' Doesn't Include Everyone". New York Times (opinion). Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  12. ^ Cassell, Justine (4 February 2011). "Editing Wars Behind the Scenes". New York Times (opinion). 
  13. ^ Reagle, Joseph; Rhue, Lauren (2011). "Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica". International Journal of Communication (Joseph Reagle & Lauren Rhue) 5: 1138–1158. 
  14. ^ "Wikipedia Editors Study: Results From The Editor Survey, April 2011". Wikipedia. April 2011. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  15. ^ a b Lam, Shyong K.; Uduwage, Anuradha; Dong, Zhenhua; Sen, Shilad; Musicant, David R.; Terveen, Loren; Reidl, John (October 2011). WP:Clubhouse? An Exploration of Wikipedia’s Gender Imbalance. WikiSym'11. ACM. 
  16. ^ Hargittai, Eszter; Shaw, Aaron (4 November 2014). "Mind the skills gap: the role of Internet know-how and gender in differentiated contributions to Wikipedia". Information, Communication & Society: 1–19. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2014.957711. 
  17. ^ Bruce Maiman (23 September 2014). "Wikipedia grows up on college campuses". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  18. ^ Yasseri, Taha; Liao, Han-Teng; Konieczny, Piotr; Morgan, Jonathan; Bayer, Tilman (31 July 2013). "Recent research — Napoleon, Michael Jackson and Srebrenica across cultures, 90% of Wikipedia better than Britannica, WikiSym preview". The Signpost. Wikipedia. 
  19. ^ "The women of Wikipedia: Closing the site's giant gender gap". 
  20. ^ "In UK, rising chorus of outrage over online misogyny". 
  21. ^ a b Jonathan T. Morgan; Siko Bouterse; Sarah Stierch; Heather Walls. "Tea & Sympathy: Crafting Positive New User Experiences on Wikipedia". Wikimedia Foundation. 
  22. ^ Gardner, Sue (19 February 2011). "Nine Reasons Why Women Don't Edit Wikipedia, In Their Own Words". (blog). 
  23. ^ Harrington, Elizabeth (30 July 2014). "Government-Funded Study: Why Is Wikipedia Sexist?". Washington Free Beacon. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  24. ^ Stoeffel (11 February 2014). "Closing Wikipedia’s Gender Gap — Reluctantly". New York Magazine. Retrieved 27 August 2014. 
  25. ^ "Class war! Wikipedia's workers revolt again • The Register". El Reg. August 18, 2014. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Kate Middleton's wedding gown and Wikipedia's gender gap.". July 13, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  27. ^ Tripp, Dawn Leonard. "How to Edit Wikipedia: Lessons from a Female Contributor". Anita Borg Institute. Retrieved 2015-02-06. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ Eckert, Stine; Steiner, Linda (October 2013). "(Re)triggering Backlash: Responses to News About Wikipedia's Gender Gap."". Journal of Communication Inquiry 37 (4): 298. 
  30. ^ Eckert, Stine; Steiner, Linda (October 2013). "(Re)triggering Backlash: Responses to News About Wikipedia's Gender Gap."". Journal of Communication Inquiry 37 (4): 295. 
  31. ^ Donald, Athene (25 October 2012). "Throw off the cloak of invisibility". Nature 490 (7421): 447. 
  32. ^ Walter, Bruno (March 2013). "Attempting to Balance Wiki-Feminism: A Case Study". Academic Questions 26 (1): 30. 
  33. ^ Flanders, Julia; Wernimont, Jacqueline (2010). "Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives". Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 29 (2): 425–435. 
  34. ^ Brown, Susan; Clements, Patricia; Grundy, Isobel (May 2006). "Sorting things in: Feminist knowledge representation and changing modes of scholarly production". Women’s Studies International Forum 29 (3): 317–25. 
  35. ^ Wadewitz, Adrianne. "Wikipedia’s gender gap and the complicated reality of systemic gender bias". HASTAC. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  36. ^ Wernimont, Jacqueline. "The Women that Category-Gate Erased". Jacqueline Wernimont Wordpress. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  37. ^ a b Huang, Keira (11 August 2013). "Wikipedia fails to bridge gender gap". South China Morning Post. 
  38. ^ "Wikistorming". FemTechNet. Fall 2013. 
  39. ^ Mac Donald, Heather (9 February 2011). "Wikipedia Is Male-Dominated. That Doesn't Mean It's Sexist.". Slate. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 

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